The Final Four wraps up tonight and for the sixth time in seven years, Bill Self is talking about everything but getting his team ready for the biggest prize in college basketball. The modern day Blue Bloods – Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin and Michigan State – all members of KU’s peer group in college hoops, looked the part – well – Michigan State played the part anyway – of what we thought we’d come to expect out of Bill Self-coached teams.
Tough, focused and together.
Except what we saw this year from Self’s team was anything but tough, focused or together.
Now, early on this season, it was clear that this was not going to be a typical year in Lawrence, and the talk of KU’s 10 straight Big 12 titles finally coming to an end was a valid discussion. The loss of Andrew Wiggins and the earlier-than-expected departure of Joel Embiid left KU vulnerable in the middle and without any true lockdown wing defender.
These are the breaks of the one-and-done Era.
The One and Dones
No biggie if you’re a KU fan, you replace Wiggins with Kelly Oubre and you soften the blow of losing Embiid by adding what appeared to be the next great KU power forward – Cliff Alexander.
Except what we saw from either Oubre or Alexander was neither Wiggins nor Embiidish.
Alexander showed flashes of potential, and had it not been for that pesky NCAA poking around, he might’ve had a decent showing at the end of the year considering he’s a lock to return pending the outcome of the investigation.
As for Oubre, and I know there were other issues on the team, but to me he’ll go down as the worst One-And-Done in Self’s tenure to date. Aside from Xavier Henry, and I blame his dad more than him, I’ve never wanted to see a KU player leave as badly as I wanted Oubre to go.
One play summed up his entire KU career – getting beat to a loose ball in a key moment at half court in the biggest game of the season.
(See Wichita State Game)
“Kelly never wanted to leave unless it was time,” Oubre’s dad told the Lawrence Journal-World. Time for what? What one thing does he do well? Take over games? Sure, taking over the game against TCU means A LOT. Taking it strong to the rim? How many times did he either lose the ball taking it to the rack or get man-handled by a defender on the way up?
Let’s look at it this way – Kelly Oubre isn’t anywhere near as good as Ben McLemore was coming out of KU, and McLemore has struggled mightily in the League. Granted it’s with Sacramento, but again, that’s the risk you take going early to the NBA. Point is, Oubre better have a good game plan on fixing his body and mental game, because nothing he did at KU suggests he’s ready for the NBA.
If Oubre is leaving town, let’s see if he can take Jerrance Howard with him. Other than allegedly recruit Chicago, what benefit is he bringing to the bench other than knowing weed dealers in Peoria? He’s a liability, and he’s another reason why this KU team looked out of sorts aside from the talent.
In the last three years, Self replaced loyal soldiers and even better basketball men Joe Dooley and Danny Manning with Norm Roberts and Howard.
Dooley’s guided Florida Gulf Coast to a 44-24 record in two seasons and two post-season appearances. Manning wrapped up his first season at Wake Forest, where although the team finished 13-19, it was the ACC, Wake Forest was terrible before Manning got there and he has that program headed in the right direction. This was after a 38-29 mark in two seasons at Tulsa.
And let’s see – KU is left with Norm Roberts, who I’m not as enthralled by during his second tour of duty with KU – and Howard.
Your assistant coaches are the guys who help create the gameplan, scout the opposing team, and work as the enforcers when it comes to instilling the discipline needed when the coach is doing the heavy lifting. You could argue the entire staff needed to be let go after what happened against Wichita State.
Recruiting is also a big part of what assistants do, but if Cliff Alexander is the feather in Howard’s hat, then the NCAA can take that along with Cliff’s eligibility.
Sure KU’s recruits and players didn’t live up to the hype this season, but the coaching staff was just as ineffective in crunch-time as well. And while we can’t forget Kurt Townsend, he has that Reggie Mitchell vibe about him – it’s what he does off the court that makes him valuable.
It’s unrealistic to expect Kansas Basketball to make a Final Four every year, but in the wake of consecutive back-to-back second round Tournament exits, and the fact that Self has created a monster at Kansas – it’s only right we tap on the panic button after the most embarrassing loss in the Bill Self Era.
I don’t buy it was an upset losing to Wichita State, but when you factor in how lopsided the game was and the narrative surrounding the game – KU’s too afraid to schedule Wichita State and now we know why – this loss stung so much more.
Self has more work to do in the coming offseason than at any other time he’s been in Lawrence. No one’s afraid of KU anymore. Texas, the one school that can go toe-to-toe in recruiting with KU, fired the perennial underachiever in Rick Barnes and hired Shaka Smart – a Final Four coach by way of upsetting… You already know.
The Big 12 has work to do after humiliating itself and what better way for teams like Iowa State, Baylor and West Virginia to legitimize themselves than by knocking off the bully on the block.
All eyes are on Kansas – and they should be.
Self will continue to recruit the One and Dones, because that’s what he does, but it’s time to dip into the three and four star pool. It’s time to get back to the guys who are Tough, Focused and Together. We know Self can coach – and guys like Devonte Graham and Landon Lucas improved exponentially during the season. I’ll sacrifice a one and done if it means a three or four star guy who will be in Lawrence three or four years.
Sure, One and Dones are a necessary evil, and when you look at Duke, it took Coach K some time to find the right mixture, but he has. After the disappointment of the past few years, Coach Self has time to figure things out and get his own mixture right. Time will tell if he will.